VOA Special English
Lockdown Keeps Millions of Women from Getting Birth Control


    Stay-at-home orders aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus have made it impossible for millions of women in Africa, Asia and elsewhere to get birth control.

    The women have no idea when they will be permitted to go out again to get access to birth control or other reproductive health needs.

    With population movements restricted across the world, women are being forced “to lock down their uterus,” Abebe Shibru told the Associated Press. He is the Zimbabwe country director for Marie Stopes International, an organization that helps women learn about birth control. “But there is no way in a rural area,” he added.

    In this Monday, April 6, 2020 photo, a woman carries a her baby and a bucket of water in Harare. Lockdowns imposed to curb the coronavirus’ spread have put millions of women in Africa, Asia and elsewhere out of reach of birth control. (AP Photo/Tsvangiray
    In this Monday, April 6, 2020 photo, a woman carries a her baby and a bucket of water in Harare. Lockdowns imposed to curb the coronavirus’ spread have put millions of women in Africa, Asia and elsewhere out of reach of birth control. (AP Photo/Tsvangiray

    Eighteen countries in Africa have national stay-at-home orders, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. All but important workers or those seeking food or health care must stay home for weeks, maybe longer. Rwanda was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to put such an order in place. It has extended it for two weeks, a sign of possible things to come.

    Even where birth control remains available, many women fear going out and being beaten by security forces and accused of breaking the rules. Also, services that help rural women have mostly stopped travelling to avoid spreading the virus from one community to another.

    The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) says in a new report that more than 20 percent of its small medical stations around the world have closed because of the pandemic and restrictions. More than 5,000 mobile medical stations across 64 countries have closed. Most are in South Asia and Africa, but Latin America and Europe have seen hundreds of closures as well.

    From Pakistan to Germany to Colombia, IPPF members say they have decreased services such as HIV testing and trips to investigate gender-based violence reports. Many countries also have a shortage of birth control medication and devices.

    “They have needs that cannot wait,” IPPF director-general Alvaro Bermejo said of women in a statement. He asked national governments to help provide birth control to women.

    In Europe, 100 non-governmental groups have called on governments to make some reproductive health services available during the pandemic. The French government said last month that pharmacies could take birth control medication to women unable to see a doctor while ordered to stay at home.

    The result is predicted to produce a baby boom of population growth in Africa. Some experts have said they believe Africa’s 1.3 billion population could increase 100 percent by 2050.

    In Zimbabwe last year, Marie Stopes gave more than 400,000 women family planning services, Abebe Shibru said. That included preventing nearly 50,000 unsafe abortions. But now the organization’s services for rural women have stopped. Even at the few, small medical stations still open, the number of visitors has dropped by 70 percent.

    Future Gwena works with people in the community for Marie Stopes. She told the AP the situation leaves many men and women trapped inside their homes with little to do.

    “Husband and wife, what else can they be doing in that house?” she asks. “I think we’re going to have a lot of pregnancies… most will result in unsafe abortions…violence.”

    Another problem has been virus-related shutdowns in countries that manufacture birth control. This has led to supply shortages across Africa.

    Birth control devices and medication were “supposed to come today to serve us for the coming six months,” Shibru said. But the arrivals were cancelled.

    In Uganda, Marie Stopes country director Carole Sekimpi said it is not known when emergency birth control devices and medication sent from India will arrive. There have been no new shipments for a month.

    “Yesterday when I heard (neighboring) Kenya talking about a lockdown in Nairobi and (the port of) Mombasa, I thought, ‘My god, what’s going to happen?” she said. “Overall, there’s definitely going to be a problem.”

    She expects not only an increase in births, but a rise in unsafe abortion and post-abortion care as well. She also believes some women may try to remove birth control devices they have in their bodies because they are afraid no family planning worker will be available to help them later.

    I'm Jill Robbins.

    The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    access – n. to be able to find or get

    uterus – n. the organ in women and most females mammals in which a child develops before it is born

    pandemic n. a disease that spread internationally

    mobile – adj. on wheels, something that can go from one place to another place

    pharmacy – n. a place where people go to get medicine

    abortion – n. the termination of a pregnancy

    baby boom – n. a time when many women have babies